Technology has always played a prominent role in the evolution of modeling as an industry and career path. Modeling as a concept began with people posing for paintings and portraits and didn’t relate to clothing and fashion. At this time fashion exhibitions were largely executed with Mannequins and only a few women were content with being referred to as live Mannequins.
It was the invention of cameras that revolutionized the modeling concept into a full-blown industry. Models now posed for photographs that appeared in newspapers and magazines and eventually TV. Television propelled models to the limelight, turning live Mannequins into super Models over time and invariably into influencers long before the term, “Influencer Marketing” was even coined.
The historical relationship between technology and modeling is therefore one of mutual respect and progression, this is why it doesn’t appear strange that AI is now again revolutionizing the industry. This time, however, the relationship is not all rosy.
While social media has been a steep learning curve for models and the industry as a whole, face recognition, AI models, and other technological shifts will make success an even bigger challenge in the coming years. This is a challenge that Ernest Sturm, President of Runway Waiters (RWW), foresaw.
Sturm’s interest and investment in the fashion industry led him to build RWW as a haven for models, a way to keep them engaged in what they love and relevant despite the challenges that this industry poses – challenges that have only been made more difficult in the digital era.
Runway Waiters was built to give models a fighting chance to boost their standing, earn what they are worth, and remain engaged in the industry that they love.
“Modeling careers can be quite inconsistent and often have their ups and downs,” says Sturm.
“There can be a significant amount of downtime, particularly during the first few years of development, while a model may still be trying to get their runway career off the ground. We understand the instability of the modeling industry which can sometimes lead to a financial crunch.”
With the proliferation of advanced, easily available photo-editing software and increasingly human-like AI, Strum is well aware of the impact the digital transformation is having on the fashion industry and the everyday lives of models.
“We are not yet at the future predictor in The Terminator,” says Strum, “but the evolution of Artificial Intelligence has been both intriguing and unsettling for these women and men who have dedicated their lives to this industry. At Runway Waiters, we at least try to create options for models so that no matter what is ahead, they will have the support and time needed to build a successful career.”
While modeling isn’t necessarily the first career one would think of as being threatened by AI, there is now a tenable possibility of real models becoming outdated and irrelevant. In the last two years, we have seen incredibly lifelike digital models become social media influencers and effective brand ambassadors.
Perhaps the most popular AI model today is @lilmiquela a digital model with over 3M followers on Instagram, and Shudu.gram, a digital model that has garnered over 218K followers. This AI revolution threatens the place and livelihoods of real-life models.
In fact, @lilmiquela has gotten signed to a traditional agency and has had collaborations with massive brands like Prada, Givenchy, and Calvin Klien. She even broke into the music scene as an artist with a debut song featuring Teyana Taylor. As all of this happens, the reality of an AI-saturated future in the industry becomes more likely.
Enthusiasts assume that the need to see real-life models and attend physical shows will always persist, but even if it does, the massive reliance on social media would see the options of real models continue to reduce and so may their profitability. Enter Runway Waiters.
Ernest and his team recognize these challenges that models face with maintaining steady careers and how these challenges are only exacerbated in the digital era. RWW was created to provide models with industry-relevant, event-based work that is flexible, fun, and well paid.
RWW operates as a staffing firm committed to helping models enjoy the modeling industry by eliminating the struggle of balancing stringent work schedules with the inconsistency of casting calls.
The Runway Waiters’ strategy is to preserve the dignity of models from the increasingly competitive modeling landscape, which now even includes AI models. They enable professional models to continue honing their craft and gaining valuable experience and connections in the industry, instead of turning to work outside of the industry to support themselves while working on their career.
Ernest and the RWW team are the enthusiasts, while they believe that AI would in fact make more inroads into the industry, they believe also that there are things that would always require a human touch, event staffing is one of them.
Jessica David’s recent piece in Harper’s Bazaar echoes the same sentiment, where she admitted that with the ability of AI tech to gather relevant data and utilize it to project themselves to visibility, they were almost certainly going to dominate our Instagram feeds in the shortest possible time. However, they would be unable to warm up an event with a smile, inspire with their looks and serve with personality.
Emboldened by this reality, RWW has managed to curate an impressive roster of models that are signed to top-tier agencies like FORD, NEXT, IMG, Elite, and Wilhelmina, for service in industry-relevant events as waiters, caterers, bartenders, and general event staff.
RWW also works with influencers, who are also being impacted by AI.
AI has also made an impact on the lives of social media models, or influencers. Before AI’s foray into marketing, marketing success depended on creativity and money. It relied on what Forbes Contributor Calum Chace, called a “Spray and Pray” strategy because marketers had to spray the cash and hope it reached the right people.
Facebook and Google’s introduction of AI-based Marketing revolutionized the space, by offering accountability in ad spend and extreme targeting options. This trend has extended into Influencer Marketing.
Influencers and Platforms like Youtube, Instagram, and Tiktok are currently in a battle to secure marketing dollars. The platforms are trying hard to ensure that if anyone would pay to promote a message or product it should be done through their ads. However, they also want to court great creators to create on the platforms.
AI is the most powerful tool in the armory of these platforms as they continue to integrate AI and data analytics to ensure that ad spend is highly effective. This reduces the money influencers make.
However, Influencers are also fighting back by utilizing AI and data as well to understand what people want and what they are clicking on, and how to influence them more effectively, this raises their game and also courts the marketers.
RWW is well aware of this trend, and formed Runway Influence to assist in matching influencers to paying brands for a win-win strategy.
Agencies like RWW also utilize AI to identify the most effective influencers for their campaigns, by understanding those with active audiences, strong engagement, and wide reach and distinguishing such influencers from fake influencers that buy their followers or obtain it without relevant influence or engagement.
Sturm’s works with scores of massive Influencer models under RWW understands this battle and his sentiment toward the proliferation of AI into Influencer Marketing summarizes well the impact of AI on careers such as modeling,
“As Artificial intelligence, Machine learning and Natural Language Processing continue to upend the industry, traits like personality, originality, creativity, and intelligence do not become irrelevant, rather they become even more relevant, digital models and AI may thrive,” Strum concludes, “but people would always find a connection to these traits whoever possesses it; the writers behind 3D digital models or the real-life models who put work into their craft, who serve at high-end events and who share their smiles generously.”